SPRINGFIELD -- The new bishop of the Springfield Diocese apologized yesterday for offending victims of clergy sexual abuse by comparing an outspoken priest and critic of church policies with a convicted pedophile.
In a heated exchange Tuesday that ended with the priest's dismissal from an advisory board, Bishop Timothy McDonnell said the Rev. James Scahill had done as much damage to the diocese as Richard Lavigne, a defrocked priest who was convicted in 1992 of molesting two altar boys, according to Scahill and others present. In a statement yesterday, McDonnell didn't deny making the remark, and said he "would never intentionally cause more hurt to those who have already suffered so much pain. I apologize to all those who have had wounds reopened."
Scahill's East Longmeadow parish has been withholding a portion of its weekly collections for the past two years to protest continued diocesan support for Lavigne. Scahill recently publicly questioned why McDonnell was taking so long in deciding to dissolve a fund created by private donors to support indigent priests -- a fund that Lavigne could have been eligible for.
On Tuesday, McDonnell dismissed Scahill from the Presbyteral Council, an advisory panel to the bishop. Monsignor Richard Sniezyk, vicar general for the diocese, who heard McDonnell's comments to Scahill, told The Republican in Springfield that Scahill's style on the panel had created tensions and his dismissal was met with relief by many of the other members. Still, he called the bishop's remarks unfortunate.
"To compare child abuse with some other offense should never be done," said Laura Failla Reilly, a diocesan victim advocate, adding that she had passed on complaints from victims and others to the bishop's office.
In his statement, McDonnell said Scahill's "ongoing sniping at the hierarchy" has hurt the healing process for victims who were abused by priests. "The public second-guessing of my motives has slowed the process and, in some cases, may have derailed it," McDonnell said. "Nevertheless, I am determined to continue to seek all the healing that is possible."